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Dominik Lukes

What is this about

A tablet is a device that any student with dyslexia should have. In fact, most students as well as adults can benefit from a tablet for learning and work regardless of any special educational needs. Last week, we had a look at some cheap tablets to consider buying for Christmas.

However, price is not your only choice when buying a tablet. You also have to choose from one of two (or possibly three) platforms:

  • iPads (running the iOS operating system from Apple)
  • Android Tablets (running the Android operating system from Google)

And it looks like soon, we will also have to start talking seriously about Windows 10 tablets as an option.

When we talk about assistive apps we often have to say whether they are available on iPad or Android. In this post, we will have a look at the differences to consider when making the decision between the two platforms.

Android vs iPad


iPads and Android tablets are very similar in what they can do. If price is your main consideration, you can safely buy one of the cheap Android tablets recommended in the previous post without fear of missing out on something crucial. Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses but with one exception none is a complete deal breaker.

Also, both platforms are constantly improving

Android tablet strengths

  • Price: Android tablets are significantly cheaper (the cheapest usable Android tablet is 4 times cheaper than the cheapest iPad). Android also has more free apps and cheaper paid apps.
  • Choice: You can choose from any number of form factors (including 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 inch tablets)
  • Flexibility: You can customise the way the system looks, download custom apps, or even install the Android operating system on your PC.

iPad strengths

  • Music production: Because of the way the iOS is designed, it is the only sensible choice for serious music production.
  • Accessibility: Here iOS (both iPhone and iPad) have a slight edge over Android. But not in a way that would exclude Android from consideration.
  • Apps:  It is no longer true that iPad has significantly more apps than Android. But apps are often released first on iPads and there are slightly more iPad-only than Android-only apps.
  • Accessories: Because there are only three possible form factors for iPad, manufacturers can make more accessories. There is no shortage of cases, or styluses for Android tablets but some specialised accessories like external microphones or charging speaker docks are more likely to be available for iPads only.


Some other features that are often claimed to be different are mostly the same:

  • Ease of use: I tend have to explain how to do things to iPad users as much as Android users. They each have areas that are easy and those that are less easy. But both are very easy to use.
  • Security: Because Android is more flexible, it lets you do things to make it less secure. But you really have to try – not something you can do by clicking something by accident. For normal users, both systems are equally safe to use if you stick to the official app stores.

Let’s now have a closer look at the key areas of difference.


Both Android and iOS have key accessibility features. You can:

  • Make text bigger
  • Have text read out to you with text to speech
  • Dictate text using text to speech

Because of the way it is implemented, iPads (or iPhones) are preferred by many blind users but Android can also be used by people without sight.

There is only one feature which gives it an edge for dyslexic readers. While Android has very good text-to-speech, you need apps to benefit from it. Apple has implemented a universal text-to-speech button. We will have a look at it closer in a future post. You can get very similar effects on Android but the implementation is clearly superior on iOS.

It was good enough to cause one of my colleagues to switch from Android to iOS. But you will have to judge whether it is worth the extra cost.

Ease of use

Apple products have the reputation of being easy to use. As someone who helps a lot of people use technology, I tend to have to help iPad (or Mac) users as much as users of other platforms. I do find that users of Apple products are more likely to blame themselves than the system. However, each system has its areas of ease and difficulty.

iPads have a simple grid of icons on the screen, so it is always clear where to find apps. Android have an app drawer, so apps are sometimes in two places.

Android allows you to put widgets on the screen which often display all the information you need without having to open the app. On iPads, you always have to open an app to see what it shows.

Android has a universal back button and an app switch button. iPads only have the one home button.

The latest iPads with iOS 9 allow you to see two apps side by side.

All iPads look exactly the same when you start them. Different Android tablets are often slightly modified by the manufacturer. Not enough to make it a problem for most users but your new tablet may look a bit different from the old one.

All iPads also tend to be upgraded to the latest version of iOS (now 9). Many cheap  or older Android tablets only offer upgrades to one or two of the next versions of the operating system (now 6). This can present some issues but in the last year, we were using tablets running Android 4.2, 4.4 and 5.1 and did not run into any issues because of that.

Android’s deep integration with Google services such as Google drive makes it a bit easier to use across many devices. On the other hand, if all of your devices are from Apple, you may benefit from those on iPads.


This is a controversial subject because both platforms use very different architectures which have their technical advantages and disadvantages. But the short message is that both platforms are equally safe for mainstream users and much safer than full PCs.

There are no dangerous viruses you have to worry about, if you download from the App Store on iPad or the Play Store on Android. Even if a bad app sneaks in, it is quickly discovered and removed from your tablet.

Android has a setting to allow you to install custom apps (called sideloading). This does not automatically open it to attack. But you have to exercise the same caution when sideloading apps as you do when installing software on the PC.


Here, there’s no question. Android tablets are cheaper. Even the expensive ones are cheaper. Apple likes to promote them as premium devices, and they certainly are of very high quality. But in real life, you may be better off buying a £50 tablet for your young child, don’t worry about them breaking it and buying another (better) one a year or two later.

Of course, you can also buy a premium Android tablet for less than an iPad. I listen to the popular podcast on Apple products called Macbreak Weekly and two of the presenters use premium Android phones because of the added flexibility.


Because of its open nature, Android simply gives you more options. Well over a dozen manufacturers make Android tablets while only Apple makes iPads. You can choose from 2 sizes of iPads (and the iPad Pro) while any size is available with Android.

You also have more flexibility in how you set up your system. You can choose different skins, launchers, widgets. Your Android tablet can look exactly the way you want.

If you try a lot of apps, you will appreciate that you can get trial versions. I also like the fact that I can install apps from my computer – they will then just appear on the tablet.

Another useful feature of Android is user switching and you can also have multiple Google accounts on the same machine. Apple only lets you set up one ID per iPad.

The only area where you have more options with iPads is accessories. Accessory makers only have two form factors to focus on. While you can always choose from 2-3 or more cases for any given Android tablet, there are probably a hundred options for the iPad. You are also more likely to find decent iPad accessories in a grocery store than you are for your particular Android model.

The two platforms also have different advantages for school administrators. iPads are slightly easier to control centrally but Android tablets have better remote control and can be linked to easier to manage Google Apps for schools.


Apps is what makes the tablet useful. Without them, all you could do is browse the web. On iPads, you have the App Store, on Android tablets you have the Google Play Store or you can install the Amazon App Store.

Note: Only buy Android tablets that have the Google Play store. Some very cheap tablets may come without it and it will greatly limit their usefulness (as we will see next week in my review of the Amazon Kindle Fire).

In the past, iPads were the clear winner when it came to apps. Now, that is no longer true.

All the mainstream apps and games are now available on the iPad and Android. Sometimes, there is a bit of a lag and often companies release apps for the iPad first. But not always. For example, because it is much easier to deploy test apps, we recently chose Android to develop our games (blog post soon).

Even if a particular app is not available on one platform or the other, it is usually possible to find an equivalent one on the other platform as you can see in previous Tech Thursdays when I  suggested apps.

The one area where iPads are the only choice is serious music production involving recording. This is because of the way sound is handled by Apple – Android involves tiny delay which hinders things like multi track recording. But this is only an edge case most people will not come across.

How about Windows 10 tablets?

As it happens, I am typing this on an 8 inch Windows 10 tablet. The DELL Venue 8 Pro. I have written previous blog posts using the Android tablet TESCO Hudl and for this kind of work, I find the Windows 10 experience slightly better.

Basically, you have a full computer with you in a tablet form factor. All you need is a cheap bluetooth keyboard and you can do anything you can do on a PC (if a bit more slowly).

However,  the Windows 10 platform is let down by the lack of apps. Without the apps, it just does not work well as a tablet. But it is very close. Suspect that in a year’s time, it will be a serious recommendation. It can already be the right choice for some people now and I will have a full review soon.


Next time

Next week we will have a full review of the £50 Amazon Kindle Fire.

Word Document version of this post

Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist

Dyslexia Action literacy project boosts skills in London schools

Concerning statistics about literacy in the UK, including one in five children leaving primary school with below the national expected levels in reading, writing and mathematics’[1], has prompted Dyslexia Action to step in and help.

Thanks to a grant from John Lyon’s Charity and The Equitable Charitable Trust, Dyslexia Action has been delivering its ‘London Phonics’ intervention project to children from London communities where extra support is most needed. The impact of their dyslexia has meant they have not met the required level in the Year 1 phonics check. The phonics check, where pupils read 40 non-words one-to-one with a teacher, identifies any reading difficulties that pupils may have. 

Beata Szaszkowska, Principal of Dyslexia Action’s London Learning Centre said:  “The project directly supports up to 20 children per school across six primary schools over three years and involves our specialist teachers delivering intensive, tailored reading support to pupils using Dyslexia Action’s Active Literacy Kit. We have also delivered whole school training and parent workshops, to provide teachers, teaching assistants and parents with a real understanding of techniques and strategies for effective interventions to support children with dyslexia or literacy difficulties.” 

The project leaves schools with useful information and resources that they can use in the future to support pupils with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.

Dyslexia Action literacy project boosts skills in London schools

Oliver Goldsmith School in Brent is one school which participated in the project.  The school SENCo said: “Seeing the pupil’s transition from having very low confidence and avoidance of reading, to enthusiastic, confident readers who participated eagerly and were not afraid to take risks and can independently use various word reading strategies, is what we consider one of the greatest successes of the project. Everyone involved has found the project invaluable in supporting the children’s acquisition of phonic knowledge – the results speak for themselves.”

The Richard Cobden School also commented on how helpful they found the resources and how fulfilling it has been to see the children’s willingness to work increase alongside their ability to work independently.

Ms Szaszkowska added: “The objective of this project was to address some of these literacy issues through early intervention, which will have a real impact on the children’s future. If you can’t learn to read, you can’t read to learn and with much of what we do at school and throughout life requiring us to have the skills to be able to read and write fluently and accurately, receiving the right support is vital.

“At Dyslexia Action we aim to ensure that we achieve sustainable change through our interventions, and from feedback received, we know that the schools will be able to continue to apply the knowledge they have learnt to their every-day teaching. This is essential in terms of benefitting more children in the future. We look forward to continuing the project with additional schools.”

Dyslexia Action is a national charity with over 40 years’ experience in providing services and support to children, young people and adults with literacy and numeracy difficulties, dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties . It provides assessments and tuition through its national Learning Centres and in schools across the country, alongside supporting teachers and educators through the provision of teaching resources and training. It also undertakes research, works with Government and campaigns to protect and promote the rights of those living with specific learning difficulties.


[1] Department for Education, (11 December 2014) National curriculum assessments at key stage 2 in England, 2014 (Revised). Accessed from:


Dyslexia Action is thrilled to announce that any individuals with a formal diagnostic assessment of dyslexia can apply, through Dyslexia Action, for a year’s free subscription to Bookshare. This offer is open for applicants until the end of December 2015.

Bookshare is an online library of ebooks and educational materials presented in accessible formats for those with print disabilities. There are more than 200,000 titles available, ranging from textbooks to bestsellers and children’s books. It is a service that is open to anyone with a physically-based disability that makes it difficult to read printed materials. This includes blindness or low vision, a physical disability or a learning or reading disability.

Dyslexia Action is delighted that the many titles on Bookshare will be available to those with a formal diagnostic assessment of dyslexia, creating more opportunities where books can be made more accessible. Bookshare books can be read by:

  • Listening to books with high quality text-to-speech voices
  • Hearing and seeing highlighted words on screen
  • Reading with enlarged fonts
  • Reading directly from the Internet browser

To benefit from this free one year subscription of Bookshare, click here to find out how to apply or go to the Bookshare website.


This article is an excerpt from Issue 2 of Dyslexia Action's newsletter Words In Action. Our newsletter will now be sent out in electronic format only. To subscribe to receive our newsletter please sign up here.

Dyslexia Action is piloting a numeracy teaching scheme entitled Dyslexia Action Maths Steps. The course is for specialist teachers to help give them a framework to teach the basics of maths in an enhanced dyslexia-friendly manner. So far, the impact of sharing this teaching process is having great success. Students involved in the pilot study have universally shown a huge increase in maths confidence and an improved grasp of concepts.

It adopts a highly visual, multi-sensory teaching approach within a structured framework of small easy steps. These steps are clearly ordered, and initially scripted, with students only progressing onto the next step when it is clear that the preceding steps are grasped well.

The true beauty and benefit of the course is that within these small steps the world of mathematics is brought to life both verbally and visually.

What does that mean? Imagine a maths lesson where the student is encouraged to tell stories about the question of, for example: 3x17. One little girl uses an example of 3 cages with 17 pandas in each. We hope for the pandas’ sake that they are big cages, but in creating her own stories she has visualised the question. This is then reinforced by further visualisation methods like writing the question in (washable!) marker pen actually on the wood of the desk, and using maths props to physically put each value on top of the sum written on the table. The novelty value of drawing on furniture, in itself, adds great and unexpected excitement in a maths lesson. But it is not solely the maths equipment that makes such a difference to the teaching process, but the variety of equipment used. The equipment enables pupils to point to and touch shapes from a unit, through tens, hundreds and so on until they can actually sit inside the million cube.

The students actually use equipment to do maths with their hands, supporting directed discovery teaching – helping students to help themselves to reach a solution. The difficulties surrounding sequencing and working memory are minimised, as pupils keep track of their working out by noting down each step in their calculations.

Lynne, specialist teacher from our Harrogate Learning Centre would love to attend future modules of the course “I think it has transformed the way I teach basic numeracy. It’s given me a structure that I never had before and the key benefit of embedding mathematical vocabulary from the start really helps children develop confidence.”

A school maths teacher of one of the students has said that light bulbs are going on all the time, as maths starts to mean something real to that child. Our hope at Dyslexia Action is that this new course will help many more teachers enable students to make that transformation.

Today, two representatives from the Department for Education visited the Holy Name RC Primary School in Moss Side, Manchester. The aim of the visit was to catch up on progress for a Department for Education-funded literacy programme that aims to promote good practice in identifying and supporting children who are struggling with literacy and may be at risk of SpLD/dyslexia.

Early Intervention Project

This literacy programme is delivered through a partnership between three leading literacy support charities: Dyslexia Action, the British Dyslexia Association and Springboard for Children, who have worked together over the course of a three year period to help improve the literacy skills of young pupils.

To date this project has helped to improve the reading development of more than 800 students across 27 schools in the areas of Leeds, Manchester/Salford, and Swindon. The first two year project was entitled Sound Check and saw literacy intervention through an intensive phonics improvement course delivered over a 20 week period to pupils who had failed their Year 1 phonics check. Of all children during the two year project who re-took the phonics check, 97% increased their scores and 71% met the threshold level.

Thanks to the success of this first stage of the project, the Department for Education has extended its funding for an extra year. Part of this latest year of funding will enable the Sound Check project to be rolled out to further schools, but in addition to that, funding will be used to create a certification framework to recognise schools that uphold good practice in the early identification of dyslexia/SpLDs and difficulties with acquisition of literacy skills and effectively provide for children that are struggling with literacy.

The certification framework is conceived as a three-tier structure awarding schools Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels. Through an application process three schools were identified as potential Centres of Excellence across England, one each in Manchester, Leeds, and Swindon. Holy Name RC Primary School, which was involved in the first stage of the Sound Check project, has since been selected to become one of three Centres of Excellence in England and is working towards achieving its Gold Level Certification. As part of this process the school will help others to benefit from their knowledge through the hosting of meetings for other local schools to share best practice in supporting children with literacy difficulties.

Today, Department for Education representatives have visited the school to see the Sound Check phonics intervention project in action at the Holy Name RC Primary School and to talk to the school about their involvement in the latest stage of the project.

Holy Name RC Primary school commented “We are thrilled to be showcasing how we endeavour to help students struggling with literacy to the Department for Education today. We have been extremely pleased to be part of the Sound Check project funded by them. Holy Name is a very caring school environment where children are put first. We appreciate that every pupil is unique and believe that each and every one of them deserves the opportunity to be happy, feel valued and experience success. Support offered through the Sound Check project will help those struggling with literacy to build on their success, self-confidence and overall happiness. We have seen really positive results from the measures that we have put in place as a school as part of the Sound Check literacy support process and are excited to build on and share this knowledge with others in the future.”

Sound Check Project Director, Liz Horobin today said: “The project to date has been hugely successful and we are delighted to have the Department for Education’s backing as well as so many schools’ involvement throughout England. Our hope with this latest phase of the project, is that in creating centres of excellence and a certification system for schools using good practice, we will encourage more schools to follow suit and facilitate sharing of information between schools to adopt appropriate support mechanisms that have already been proven successful. ”

This news follows the recent announcement that the Sound Check Phonics Intervention approach will be included in the latest edition of ‘What works for children and young people with literacy difficulties?’ by Professor Greg Brooks.

This definitive guide, now in its 5th edition, provides education professionals with an overview of the effectiveness of intervention schemes designed to support children who experience difficulty in literacy. 



This is the third buying guide since the start of TechThursday.

This year, we will focus on tablets. Not much new has happened in the world of e-readers, and our previous guides are still accurate. Some e-readers have had new versions but nothing that would require an upgrade.

In 2013, the one big difference between e-readers and tablets was price. E-readers were generally quite a bit cheaper. In 2014, that was less so and in 2015, there is no difference in price between tablets and e-readers as a whole.

Of course, you may also consider buying a phone which can do all the things a tablet can do but on a smaller screen. See our post on cheap phones but even cheap phones are more expensive than tablets.


Choosing Tablets

Why buy a tablet

The tablet is the perfect device for learning, productivity and entertainment. For some people, it may even replace a computer.

What can a tablet do for you

What can a tablet do for you

  • Reading: It can serve as the perfect e-reader for books, magazines, news and even textbooks. It can also read out to you using text-to-speech.
  • Writing/editing:  Computers are better than tablets for serious writing. But now that you can easily dictate into Google Docs or notes, a tablet will be a good choice for doing homework for many students.
  • Organisation:  Since a tablet is always with you, it is much better at reminders, to dos and calendars.
  • Learning:  Apart from books, there are many learning apps and also educational videos on YouTube, you can use to learn.
  • Communication: You can use your tablet to talk to people on Skype, social media or send email.
  • Entertainment: You  can use a tablet for entertainment if you like games, films, TV, music and, of course, books.

Can a tablet replace a computer?

For some people, it can. But most people will need to use both (at least for now).

Can a tablet replace a computer?

In what way is tablet better than a computer?

There are many advantages of tablet over a computer.

  • easy to use
  • touch makes it feel personal
  • turns on immediately
  • lasts almost a full day of use on a single battery charge
  • light enough to always carry in a purse, bag or pocket
  • you can hold it in one hand for reading
  • no fear of viruses
  • free or cheap apps

Where computer is better than a tablet

There are many areas where computers are better than tablets:

  • Productivity
  • Video editing
  • Long document editing
  • Research
  • Programming and web development
  • Heavy serious gaming

These are the reasons:

  • seeing windows side by side
  • easier to type with proper keyboards
  • more powerful processors
  • more precision with mouse and keyboard

When I want to do serious work, I will always use my computer and every student from secondary school up will need to use a computer. But when I travel for a meeting in London, I often just take my TESCO Hudl2 with me with a Bluetooth keyboard.

What to look for when buying a tablet

What to look for when buying a tablet

Tablets have become a commodity now. Almost any you can buy over £50 will be able to do most of the things you want. Here are a few things that differentiate between tablets.


The first thing you need to decide is screen size. Because our focus is on reading, I do not even consider 10 inch screens. Your options are:

  • 7in screen: Great for portability and reading books, fine for everything else. Might even fit in a shirt pocket.
  • 8in screen: Great for productivity and games. A bit less portable but still very light.

The biggest differentiator that will push up the prices is screen quality. I find even lower resolution screen perfectly usable for reading. But higher resolution is better and depending on your eyes.


Some tablets keep the cost low by keeping the on-board storage. On some models you can add more space with a micro SD Card.

  • 4GB – only the lowest models, SD card is a must, not recommended
  • 8GB – perfectly usable until you start loading in big games, music and films, then you’ll need an SD card
  • 16GB – you can get by without an SD card but you will have to periodically delete things
  • 32GB – very unusual in cheap tablets; expect to pay over £100 for a tablet with this much memory
Battery life

Most tablet makers list their battery life as 8-10 hours. But this will vary depending on how you use it. Usually, it will be a lot less if you play a touch intensive game and more if you listen to music or read a book. It is worth reading the reviews to see how good individual tablets are in the real world.

In most cases, you can take a tablet with you to school or on a short trip without a charger. But you may run out of juice if you use it a lot. To extend battery life, lower the screen brightness.

Do not buy a tablet that lists its battery life as 6 hours or less. You will have to charge it several times a day.

Tablets also differ in their ability to keep charge when not being used. Here Apple is the undisputed champion but an unused tablet should last a few days.

Operating system

In tablets you have three main options.

  • Android
  • iOS (iPad)
  • Windows 10

If you want a tablet under £200, your only options are Android or Windows. There are some very good windows tablets (I have and use the Dell Venue 8 Pro) but almost none of the apps that make tablets great for accessibility are available there yet.

So, your only choice for a cheap tablet is Android. The cheapest tablets are shipped with older versions of Android (because they are usually older models). You can upgrade some of them to later versions but rarely will they have the very latest.

Only buy a tablet which lists its version of Android as at least 4.2. Version 5 or 5.1 is the best but even the earlier versions are perfectly usable and will run any app you want.

Some cheap tablets to consider buying

Here are my top recommendations for tablets to consider buying this year in all categories. Prices and links valid as of 19 Nov 2015.

7-inch under £100

ASUS ZenPad Z170C" (PC World, £80)

This tablet is probably the best value. All the reviews have been very positive and it should last a while because it was released this year and has Android 5.0. I have not tested it personally but have no doubt about the reviews.

Lenovo IdeaTab A7 50 (Amazon, £75)

A great choice for an affordable and capable tablet which some of our partners used on a recent project. However, at a very similar price, the ZenPad is the more attractive alternative.

Acer Iconia B1 (Amazon, £50)

If price is a concern, this tablet is a great value. We used them in schools on several projects and they are sufficient for most tasks. It has no back camera and only Android 4.4 – but this should not be a problem for most tasks.

Kindle Fire (Amazon, £50)

I do not recommend this tablet to most people. See my full review next week. But at the attractive price, it has solid hardware, let down by lack of suitable apps.

8-inch tablets

TESCO Hudl2 (£100, Tesco, eligible for Club card boost)

Despite rumours about the tablet being discontinued, it is still available and a clear recommendation in this category for price/spec ratio. Good performance with a premium screen. I use mine regularly for all of the above and am very happy with it. The battery life is decent but not the best. It has been upgraded to Android 5.1.

Lenovo A8-50  (£90, Amazon)

A decent tablet with a good battery life according to reviews. A definite contender if Hudl is not available – cheaper but a lower resolution screen.

Acer Iconia Tab 8 (£100, PC World)

Definitely usable tablet with nice design but reviews suggest that the Hudl2 or Lenovo A8-50 would be better options for the price.

iPad Mini 2 (£219, PC World, Apple)

The iPad Mini 2 has much to recommend it but price is not one of the things. It stands up well for a two-year old model with a great screen and very good battery life. It has no SD card slot so you will be stuck with 16GB at the lowest price. The iPad Mini 1 can probably still be found for sale for under £200.



You should also budget some money for accessories. Here some suggestions.


You should definitely invest in a cover. There are many cheap universal covers available for 7 and 8 inch tablets. There are three types of covers:

  • Neoprene sleeves can often be found in a pound shop and will protect the screen in a bag or on a desk.
  • Universal wallet cases which provide a cover for the tablet while in use. They can be very cheap but are a bit bulkier and use loops to attach to the screen.
  • Snap in cases have to be made specifically for the individual model but they are smaller and sturdier. I like this type the most and use them on all my tablets.

Apart from protection, the advantage of most cases is that you can also use it as a stand for the tablet.


If you want to use your tablet for more serious writing, it is worth investing in a Bluetooth keyboard.

I bought and use the TeckNet keyboard for £13 and it works very well with my TESCO Hudl2.

Some covers have integrated keyboards but they tend to be more bulky or expensive.

How to buy a tablet

The prices in the tablet space are changing constantly. Do compare your options before you buy one. The good news is that in the £50 - £100 range, there are now a number of very decent tablets and you don’t have to worry about buying something unusable.

Note: I only personally tested a few of my recommendations. Look for other reviews before you make your decision.

Next time

Next week we will have a full review of the £50 Amazon Kindle Fire.

Word Document version of this post

Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist


This My Story article is an excerpt from Issue 3 of Dyslexia Action's newsletter Words In Action. Our newsletter will now be sent out in electronic format only. To subscribe to receive our newsletter please sign up here.

To be totally honest, I really didn’t like school, especially the academic side of things. I struggled for years, it became such a chore. But outside of the classroom in sports and creative arts I excelled. I may have been bottom set all of my school life but on the field I was the total opposite and I liked that.

At first, I thought being dyslexic meant that I was stupid. I can remember the day I found out that I had dyslexia. I didn’t take it well. I cried all the way home. Thankfully I was blessed with an amazing SENCo and two brilliant teachers for English and maths. I am still so thankful for their persistence and positive thinking when I felt like the world was crashing around me.

When I turned 15 I started baking and cooking all the time. I spent most of my free time in the kitchen. My Mum suggested I watch a documentary about Jamie Oliver who also turned out to be dyslexic. I learnt that he went to Westminster Kingsway College to study cookery and in that moment I decided that it was a career path I could pursue. I did a short course there on Saturdays, fell in love with the place and enrolled the following year.

My teachers valued my enthusiasm in class and selected me to be part of the school’s culinary competition team representing them at national level. I learnt a lot about myself when competing; the fact that I could think five steps ahead whilst multi-tasking and being observed by health and hygiene officers and judges from some of London’s best kitchens. It was daunting but a game changer! I thrived in the heat of the kitchen!

Now I work as a freelance private chef having previously worked for Jamie Oliver teaching in his cookery school and being the private chef to the Swedish Ambassador in London.

Find your passion and pursue it! That is the best advice I could give to anyone young.



Dragon NaturallySpeaking

What is this about

This is the third part in a three part series on speaking to your computer. In the first part, we talked about how to get started with speaking to computers and phones.

In the second part, I showed you how you can dictate a full document for free using Google Docs and Voice Typing. As you could see, Google’s voice typing was very powerful and accurate. But I could do almost no navigation and editing using voice.

In this third part, we will have a look at the best-in-class of dictation. For this, we will look at the commercial product Dragon NaturallySpeaking. While it has its limitations, it is the only possibility for authoring complete documents with just the use of your voice.

I am going to dictate this entire document without touching the keyboard, so that you can see what can be accomplished. I will only use the mouse and the keyboard for final touching up of the formatting and small edits.

You can watch a lightly edited recording of me dictating this on YouTube.

What is Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the only commercially available product that anybody can buy and install on their PC or Mac that will allow for complete voice control of their computer. It is particularly powerful at dictating entire documents using word processors such as Microsoft Word.

In the past, there were several competing products in this space. There are still a number of speech recognition companies, but none of them (except perhaps for Google and Apple) offer a full-featured consumer product. I am dictating this document using the pre-release version 14 provided by the producer of Dragon Nuance, which has some additional professional features but the speech recognition is the same as in the previous version 13.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking has versions for both the PC and the Mac. There is a mobile version, as well, but in the mobile space, the competition from Apple and Google as well as Microsoft is much more credible.

For quite a while, Microsoft has offered free speech recognition built into Windows. Unlike Dragon, it requires much more training and, at least for me, it is not nearly as accurate. It is free, but if you find yourself doing a lot of dictation, you will find that Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a good investment. You can buy Dragon on Amazon for between 70 and 80 pounds. There are also discounts for educational aversions.

How to get started with Dragon NaturallySpeaking

How to get started with Dragon NaturallySpeaking

After you install Dragon, you will need to set up your profile. This requires that you plug in your headset (which is recommended) and use it to read out a relatively short text. If you struggle with reading, you could ask somebody to read it out for you quietly and repeat what they say.

After you finish the profile setup, you should probably go through the tutorial that explains the key features. But if you already know how to use speech recognition software, you could just start using it right away. Just click on the Microphone button on the Dragon toolbar.

Remember, you could set up multiple profiles with Dragon for different microphones and different environments in which you are (for example, a noisy classroom).

Basic commands you should know

Basic commands

You will be much more successful in your dictation, if you learn at least the basic speech commands. The first one you should learn is definitely what can I say. This will give you a list of possible commands, but you should definitely know the most important ones my heart. They don’t really require much memorization because they are very close to the natural commands you would give to a person who was editing a document. Here are the ones that I find myself using most often:

Editing commands

  • select – will select the word or sentence after the command
  • scratch that – will delete the last thing you dictated
  • next paragraph – is the same thing as hitting enter
  • new line – will start a next line without starting a new paragraph (the same thing as typing shift enter)

Navigation commands

  • go to end of line
  • go to start of line
  • move left number words
  • move right number words
  • page up/page down
  • insert before

Formatting commands

  • capitalize – will capitalize the word or phrase you say
  • bold text – will make everything that you say bold
  • cut/copy/paste – will cut, copy or paste anything after the command
  • make that bullet style
  • change style to heading 1, 2, or 3
  • numeral – will write out any number you say as a digit

Dictating this section, was the most difficult part dictating this document. This was because I had to switch between the command and dictation mode of Dragon in order to dictate the commands.

You may find it helpful, to make a card with the most useful commands for you, and place it next to your screen. The Computer Accessibility and Productivity Cue Cards we created for Load2Learn, already contain one such card that you can modify for yourself.

How to dictate most effectively

If you watch the video, of me dictating this document, you will see and hear that I am speaking relatively slowly one clause or sentence at a time. This is for two reasons:

  • Dragon is much more successful at transcribing complete sentences or at least phrases rather than individual words because it can use context to help it figure out what you’re trying to say.
  • It is also easier, at least for me, to formulate what I want to say if I speak slowly and deliberately. But because I am a fast typist I do not use speech recognition on the desktop very often. People who dictate all of their documents all the time can get very quick at it.
  • You may also find it useful to create an outline or mindmap ahead of time to make sure you don’t forget anything

But if you are a slow typist and/or your spelling is very bad or inconsistent, you will find that dictation is the perfect solution for you.

Proof reading what you dictated

proof reading

Dragon is good but not perfect. And sometimes you may misspeak. So it is important to check what you dictated. But if your reading is not reliable enough, Dragon comes with very good, there are two options.

  • Playback will play back what you said and highlight the text while it’s playing back what you said
  • Read that will use Text to Speech to read back the whole documents or just the selected text

You can either use the Dragon Toolbar or just say something like “Select paragraph” and “Playback” or “Read that.”

How good is Dragon’s speech recognition today?

The last time, I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking, was almost 10 years ago when I broke my arm and could type for almost a month. Back then, speech recognition was definitely usable but was making far too many mistakes for me not to go back to typing as soon as possible. Even the 99% accuracy meant that there was an error in every sentence or two. I find, that using the built in a free speech recognition in Windows is still like that.

My experience with this latest version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, has been much better. The dictation makes hardly any mistakes – probably no more than I would do in typing.

The only mistakes were when I fumbled the word by speaking too quickly or when I try to dictate individual words that were too short and without context. It has also made mistakes with easily confusable words such as to, two, too, or your and you’re. (While it found big words very easy paradoxically it did struggle with the word confusable above, but only the first time.)

There is no doubt in my mind, that Dragon NaturallySpeaking should be installed on the computer of every secondary school students who struggles with writing. As you can see from the picture below that was presented and a recent meeting British Assistive Technologies Association, being able to dictate the computer can change how much a student can write if they are not hampered by the fact that struggles with spelling slowed them down too much to be effective writers.

British Assistive Technologies Association

Image by Helen Simon, Examination Officers’ Association


Word Document Version of this post

Note: Watch this video before you download and install any free software.

Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist




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